What We Have Now

How Much Primary Forest Is Left Today?

Forests of all types currently cover about 49 million acres in the Lake States (MN, MI, WI), or about 60% as much land as they did in pre-Euro-settlement times (From Lee Frelich, Forest Dynamics and Disturbance Regimes, New York, 2002) . Of that, primary forests – those never logged – currently amount to around 910,000 acres, or a little over 1% of the presettlement forest cover. But even this small number is deceiving, given that nearly half of that total is represented by swamp conifers that were too difficult to get to, or simply not worth cutting because of their small size, inaccessibility, or low market values. And over 1/3 of the primary forest is in the near-boreal type, nearly all of which is found in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area of northeastern Minnesota.

Near-boreal (nearly all in BWCWA) 310,000 acres 2.8% of original
Northern Hemlock-hardwoods 72,000 acres 0.2% of original
White/Red Pine (nearly all in BWCWA) 57,000 acres 0.6% of original
Other (Swamp conifers mostly) 480,000 acres 2.2% of original
Total 919,000 acres 1.1% of original


Of Wisconsin’s over 16 million forested acres today, here’s the best estimate of what we have left in the following age brackets (2014 statistics from a personal communication from Randy Hoffman on 9/14)

Forest Type  Acres OG(150+yrs) Old Forest(120-150) Future OG(100-119)
Hemlock 6,644 8,698 9,901
No. Hardwoods 2,502 23,229 54,231
White Pine 1,044 19,726 33,668
White Cedar 16,551 31,888 32,707


Of the actively managed forest on the Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest, our largest state forest, 44% is between 1 and 40 years old, 22% is between 41 and 80 years old, 31% is between 81 and 120 years old, and 3% of the forests on the NHAL exceed 120 years in age (which includes swamp conifers).

Just for comparison, Wisconsin has 505 golf courses, each averaging perhaps 175 acres, for an estimated total of 88,000 acres, at least according to statistics from the National Golf Federation. At 26,000 acres, Wisconsin’s old-growth forests (defined here as 150+ years in age) amount to less than one-third of our landscape now sculpted for golfers.